A double bill by The Dutch National Opera with a dark dreaming Zemlinsky and a witty Puccini
During Gustav Mahler's marital crisis – his wife Alma had an affair with architect Walter Gropius (founder of Bauhaus, who would be her second husband after Gustav's death) – Alexander von Zemlinksy chose Mahler's side. Zemlinsky's ambivalent feelings towards Alma Mahler, the woman he once fell in love with, found their way to his Maeterlinck songs and, later, to the opera Eine Florentinische Tragödie. With a keen (and jealous) eye for the success of Richard Strauss's Salome, Zemlinsky made an attempt with Eine Florentinische Tragödie to close the gap between him and the public at large with his own post-romantic psychopathological one act opera based on a text by Oscar Wilde. It didn't quite work out. The story of the Florentine merchant Simone, who killed the lover of his wife Bianca before her eyes, didn't really made into a hit. It was neither a scandal like Salome, the opera that enabled Strauss to buy a beautiful villa in Garmisch, nor a great success. The commotion was limited to Alma Mahler who recognized herself in Bianca and would never forgive Zemlinksy for that.
For this triangular relationship, stage designer Raimund Orfeo Voight has designed a constantly rotating and tilting stage. The bare stage gives the audience a view from different angles on the three main characters. It's a ride on turbulent waves - this Florentine drama dressed in the chromaticism of the early twentieth century - on which the thoughts of this Wagnerian drifts towards Der Fliegende Holländer. Not that Der Holländer has any business here but it's a bridge to Jan Philipp Gloger (his Fliegende Holländer-production from 2012 will get its reprise next summer in Bayreuth). After his Rosenkavalier from 2015, Gloger again takes charge of the direction for a production for The Dutch National Opera in a very convincing way.
In sharp contrast with the dark dream of Eine Florentinische Tragödie stands the comedy of the cheerful scammer Gianni Schicchi. Just like in his Rosenkavalier, Jan Philipp Gloger once again shows himself as a director with a superb sense of humour and timing (the first does not go without the last of course) and, as with Strauss, he braids action and music seamlessly together (the joke with the mobile phone is quite brilliant). With his direction he underscores the ingenuity of the composer, Puccini, and turns Gianni Schicchi into a convincing piece of music theatre on all fronts, in which it is once again demonstrated that good singing cannot do without good acting.
Just like in Eine Florentinische Tragödie, Gianni Schicchi refers to foreigners who are viewed with wary eyes. In Zemlinksy's piece it are the English who ruin the market with their low prices, with Puccini it is the title hero who, as a newcomer in Florence, is viewed with suspicion. His role as outsider gets an accent in his clothing. Dressed in a Metallica t-shirt, Gianni Schicchi (Massimo Cavalletti) fools everyone. Like a Master of Puppets, Schicchi pulls the strings of those who think they can use (abuse) him for their own benefit. Gianni awards himself with the main prize from Buoso's inheritance and allows his daughter Lauretta (Mariangela Sicilia, the embodiement of youth) to marry her beloved Rinuccio (Alessandro Scotto di Luzio). All well when it ends well. The room in which everything takes place is then tilted. It is, in addition to the two quotes of Bianca hanging on the wall – in Italian translation - one of the few scenic points of reference with Eine Florentinische Tragödie.
Zemlinksy's dark dream and Puccini's comedy find each other in one final visual connection.
Satisfied, the bitter-sweet combination of Zemlinksy and Puccini tasted good, I ask Nikolai Schukoff for a signature and with his greetings for my mom (she found his Lohengrin from three years ago very beautiful) I go home.
Guido Bardi: Nikolai Schukoff
Simone: John Lundgren
Bianca: Ausrine Stundyte
Gianni Schicchi: Massimo Cavalletti
Lauretta: Mariangela Sicilia
Zita: Enkelejda Shkosa
Rinuccio: Alessandro Scotto di Luzio
Conductor: Marc Albrecht
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
The Dutch National Opera
11 November 2017 - 28 November 2017